It’s the time of the year again! A new set is always like Christmas and I’m excited to give you my opinions on the new cards. As always, I’ll talk cards that have the chance to see some play in Historic or Standard; as such, I will not talk about cards that I don’t deem relevant enough (or cards for Limited, for that matter). And as always, I’ll evaluate these cards based on these criteria:
- “Visible” power level: This basically just means if I am able to slot a card into an already existing deck or archetype, without changing the original deck too much. It’s probably easier to fit these cards into Historic, as most Standard sets are rotating with Zendikar Rising.
- “Potential” power level: This will be the more speculative section as it’s tougher to evaluate power of some cards without knowing their right home. It is also very much possible that cards are very strong, but need some more support to get going (remember Wilderness Reclamation? That card saw little to no play until it got stronger with every new set, ultimately getting banned). In this case, it can be that I give a card 4 stars even though it doesn’t have enough support yet – because there is a chance that it can become incredibly powerful in the right shell.
For part 1 of this guide where we discuss White, Blue and Black cards, click here.
This article is inspired by Drifter and I will be using his rating system as it is pretty much perfect:
- 5★ All Star in many different decks and archetypes, including top tier ones (e.g. Llanowar Elves, Teferi, Time Raveler, Field of the Dead)
- 4★ Great and important to multiple different good decks, or defines an archetype (e.g. Burning-Tree Emissary, Curious Obsession, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria)
- 3.5★ Good in many different decks or important in at least one good deck (e.g. Mox Amber, Wildgrowth Walker, Phyrexian Obliterator)
- 3★ Good in at least one decent deck or filler in multiples (e.g. Lava Coil, Vivien Reid, Rotting Regisaur)
- 2★ Likely to see play in some fringe decks at least (e.g. Thrill of Possibility, Gates Ablaze, The Gitrog Monster)
- 1★ Might see play somewhere but definitely not a sure thing (e.g. Discordant Piper, Hadana’s Climb, Keep Safe)
Before we start…
- Do not forget that creating this article has a lot of speculation: There is a good chance that I will be wrong about some cards and will even miss some good ones. If you find some of those examples later, let me know in the comments and don’t forget to tell everyone how stupid I am!
- The archetypes that Wizards pushed in this expansion are: Izzet Giants, Golgari Elves and Orzhov Angels / Clerics / Lifegain. Keep that in mind as I evaluate the cards.
- I will not mention Historic a lot – that has something to do with the fact that I don’t deem most of them good enough for that format. Historic is just really strong these days, and while I don’t think that the set is too weak or anything, I think the cards just need a little bit more power to shake up Historic.
- Have fun!
Birgi, God of Storytelling
I’ll give this a “potential” 3 stars – it’s only good in exactly one type of deck, and that is Storm. For those not familiar with the terminology, it’s basically an archetype that wants to chain as many spells as possible in one turn and then kill your opponent with some sort of pay-off. Right now, we basically only have Thousand-Year Storm in Historic, and that card isn’t great of course – but keep in mind that it’s always possible for certain cards to have potential, but only get unlocked after a specific set of other cards gets printed (remember Wilderness Reclamation?). I think you’ll never play Birgi for the Boast bonus and the artifact half also seems pretty bad, although it’s nice to have some duplicate protection in your hand I guess.
Good aggressive creature, really love the haste on this – there are not a lot of 3-drops with haste. You’d have to assume that it’s the best in Gruul decks which also play bigger creatures. The floor here of course again is the fact that it’s horrible against Lovestruck Beast – yes I say that about a lot of creatures, but that’s just the reality right now – Lovestruck Beast and Bonecrusher Giant stop a lot of other creatures from seeing play. This is also great with Anax, Hardened in the Forge, although I hate that it has to be legendary.
This card pushes giants onto another level – double the damage? Even the Bearer alone deals 6 damage in combat – and imagine this with Embercleave! The relevant giants right now are Bonecrusher Giant, Tectonic Giant (if we get a working giants deck – this card is already good), Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig (although it probably won’t fit because of the casting cost), Beanstalk Giant and… Kroxa (I didn’t know that before researching)? Don’t forget that the “Stomp” half of Bonecrusher Giant will sadly not deal double damage. In my honest opinion, giant tribal will be too weak for any format, as it just seems too fair and clunky, but we’ll find out. There are also other cards in this set that are giants and I’ll mention them later.
Crush the Weak
Solid sideboard option, although it doesn’t really have too many implications right now.
There’s so much potential for this 2-drop – not even only for dragon decks! Of course it gets better there and it will be a good 2-drop to enable your early game and it will also help your other creatures with Boast – although I don’t think that’s too valuable. Again, my biggest concern for this card – you guessed it – Bonecrusher Giant. I know, it’s annoying, but literally every red deck will play this card until it rotates and it makes 2-drops that get killed by it basically unplayable, especially when it’s about board control. It also doesn’t do anything against Ruin Crab or Soaring Thought-Thief in combat, so just based on the current metagame, it seems pretty bad. Overall your aggressive red decks will not want this and as a result, this will probably not see much play.
Okay maybe, just maybe this can be good enough for Snow decks, although I doubt it, since it doesn’t target the player directly. Maybe there is some sort of red control deck that doesn’t play black that wants this – 1 mana for 3 damage is incredibly efficient, after all.
One of my viewers suggested to call this the “Gloryblinger” and I thought that was amazing. Jokes aside, I actually like this card. Flying and haste is already quite important as it makes this a threat at basically any point of the game – and you pretty much always get a Treasure token out of this (at least). Decks that play bigger creatures like Goldspan Dragon usually want to spent a lot of mana anyway, so this will be helpful! Do not underestimate this effect with the notion of “I already have 5 mana, why should I need more ramp now?” – it will be useful, I guarantee it.
Magda, Brazen Outlaw
Coincidentally, this works well with Goldspan Dragon, but you need other dwarves with this – if you’re wondering, the other meaningful dwarves that we have right now are Torbran, Thran of Redfell and Rimrock Knight and… That’s it. I doubt that this archetype will get enough support for constructed though. Maybe it’s good enough for red decks to just get a hit in, and then being able to ramp into another creature post combat, but I just doubt it.
I really wish that this card would be anti-rogues tech in any deck, not just in Giants. For 4 or 5 mana, this is just a decent creature and nothing spectacular – but I like that Wizards recognized that this kind of deck would have a hard time against Rogues and built a defense mechanism into this.
Seize the Spoils
If anything, this is great for the Historic Izzet “Splinter Twin” deck, but other than that I don’t really see a place for this.
Great removal spell for Giant decks, pretty unplayable anywhere else.
Typical trap card for me – just maybe it’s okay in mono-red combo decks, which makes it pretty narrow in best case scenarios.
Toralf, God of Fury
That card is just too clunky to be playable. The fact that you need to pay 4 mana every time you want to use this (and you need a creature) is just not something that you want. The creature side also doesn’t do enough for 4 mana.
If you’re able to play this on turn 3 and then play something in the same turn, this is just great. I hate that this doesn’t kill Lovestruck Beast, but it will have other targets. Another card that’s great with Snow!
Red doesn’t seem incredibly strong and it didn’t get much support for aggressive archetypes. Although it does have sweet support for sweet archetypes and I hope that future sets support this even more!
I think that card isn’t super great. If I were to compare this to Elder Gargaroth, then I’d say the latter is better in most situations, as it just snowballs the game much harder. Maybe the Foretell will make this good enough, but there is also the problem that it just loses to Lovestruck Beast in combat. It is a strong 5-drop, but at this point I’m not sure if it’s better than the other options we have right now.
That card is incredible for Elves! Premium 2-drops are just one thing that every tribal deck wants, and this will always have an incredibly relevant late game ability.
Esika, God of the Tree
So there is this five-color good stuff deck coming together and for sure this will be great in it – it’s mana fixing, which this deck needs, a good blocker which this deck needs and a huge win condition in itself. I can’t really see a world where you play this in other decks, as 3 mana rampers that can get removed are always a bit tricky to play. It seems incredibly good for Brawl formats though, akin to Kinnan.
There are a lot of permanents coming out of this one card – maybe this could revitalize the Selesnya Yorion decks? The floor of this card are 3 permanents, the ceiling is that you get to copy some sweet tokens or you get more triggers out of this by flickering this. I’m scared that 4 mana might be too much for this, but honestly? It could be good enough.
Fynn, the Fangbearer
I am incredibly confused by this. Maybe Wizards tries to give Deathtouch tribal more and more support, like they did with Rogues in the past – making it stronger with every set. Right now we only have this and Hooded Blightfang as real payoffs, so I don’t think it’s enough, at least for now.
In Search of Greatness
People look at this and say that it’s a 2 mana Fires of Invention and I can assure you, it is not. This doesn’t double your mana the turn it comes into play and it doesn’t have the restriction of needing another permanent for this to be good. I think it can still be good in midrange decks that want to use a lot of mana in the early turns, like Food with Trail of Crumbs for example. The mana cost is also quite limiting on this, so I’d be careful to call this card good or anything else in that direction.
Jorn, God of Winter
Some people suggested this for some mono-green aggro decks, where you get to attack and resolve two 3-drops on turn 4. I think that’s Magic, the Wonderlanding. If you’re able to play this in – again – the midrange snow deck, this can be another great piece for value, which will occasionally help you cast multiple spells in the same turn. This argument really solidifies: midrange decks are mana hungry, especially in the early turns of the game and this will help out there as well as being a good value engine – remember that the artifact will also let you play lands out of the graveyard (as long as they are snow).
Kolvori, God of Kinship
I think this card is just a combination of narrow advantages and i just too clunky overall. The first line of text is pretty easy to interact with and while the activated ability is strong, it’s also 4 + 2 mana in two different turns. Even the artifact half of this will not convince me to think well of this card.
Man, that card is good. Yes, it trades down against Lovestruck Beast , and I hate that about it – but I think it’s still worth it to play this. This card is designed strictly for mono-green and it is probably better than Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig. I think the Food deck in Standard is probably not too interested in this, because it needs to pass the test against Lovestruck Beast first. It balances 2 weaknesses out of the stompy decks out: First, they are bad against sweepers. This will make sure that you have and instant speed way to get back onto the battlefield. Second, their big, clunky creatures can get chumped by smaller creatures – this one has trample! There is just so much going on with this card, but it could honestly not be good enough just based on the fact that Extinction Event and Lovestruck beast are so popular.
My first inclination is that this is a great sideboard piece against control for tribal decks like Elves, but it’s still a creature and those kind of decks will be tried to get answered by sweepers and more removal spells anyway. 3 toughness is also not great for 3 mana, so I think it’s not very good.
Toski, Bearer of Secrets
Even as a sideboard piece against the right decks, this is just too expensive. Your opponent will just make a 2/2 Shark Typhoon token and block it forever; and in other strategies it will not provide enough power for 4 mana.
That card insane for Elves. It’s not quite Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord as it was for Vampires, but it’s still pretty good. Do not underestimate the static ability on this; Elves want to dump their hand as fast as possible. Tyvar also gets to the ultimate quite quickly, although I assume that you’ll mostly use the second ability the most. It’s great that tribal decks get specific planeswalker support and this will be huge for Golgari Elves.
Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider
I wasn’t particularly high on this card, but then I remembered that this stops sagas from functioning and it also halves the loyalty of your opponents planeswalkers – and it allows your own planeswalkers to ult immediately. This makes it a must-kill target immediately and it already has good stats with important keywords to begin with. This also essentially costs 5 mana in the right deck (because of Castle Garenbrig) and honestly – that’s just incredible. Food struggles against Elspeth Conquers Death for example and having an expensive creature that doesn’t get exiled by it is for sure a good thing to have. It could even be good enough for Historic – suddenly your Nissa, Who Shakes the World tokens are all 6/6. Sure, it costs 6 mana and it needs to survive, but honestly? This could be one of the most impactful cards of the set.
Green doesn’t have a lot of cards this time around, but the cards that it has are certainly powerful. You always have to keep in mind that Food and Gruul are the top tier decks in Standard right now, so always look twice at every green card.
Arni Slays the Troll
I don’t like this too much; in the early game, you have a tough time having a creature that can fight profitably and in the late game the other abilities don’t do much. Maybe if they switched I and II around, it would’ve been a solid choice, but not like this.
Ascent of the Worthy
I’m going to ignore the first 2 chapters, as they are pretty much useless and only have minor implications. I was thinking of playing this as a 3 mana card that will be your turn 5 reanimator spell – without paying mana on turn 5. That at least is worth looking out for, although it still just seems a bit too hard to pull off.
Battle for Bretagard
This card is awesome for Selesnya tokens. You get 4 creatures (at least) out of this (if they don’t kill your creatures), although it doesn’t help against the biggest weakness of this deck, which are sweepers. In fact, this is so bad against sweepers that it completely deletes the third chapter of this saga. As such, I think this card is just okay, even in the right deck.
Battle of Frost and Fire
Sure, more support for Giants. Look, I am just very skeptical about this archetype in general – the midrange decks in Standard are much better (because of the planeswalkers and The Great Henge) and it will lose against Rogues. The cards for giants aren’t bad by all means, but they just don’t feel good enough, and they need more than just some expensive spells to be considered good by me.
Binding the Old Gods
Yeah, this seems good, and it could honestly be another reason to play green for your Yorion decks. Flickering this is incredible and it will allow you to keep hitting these land drops, which that deck needs. I can see a world where that deck just cuts Doom Foretold for this (and puts it into the sideboard), as this will always be targeted removal and it doesn’t force you sacrifice things as well.
The Bloodsky Massacre
Just at face value, this seems good, but how much Berserker support do we have? I feel like this is just the introduction of an archetype for the future (like Rogues with Thieves’ Guild Enforcer) and it’s not good enough yet – but it could be in a few sets.
So if you don’t want to play green for your Yorion decks, just play this instead. This is massive and slots right into the colors and might be another reason to cut Doom Foretold for this. The Yorion deck is already good, but this will make it even better.
Harald, King of Skemfar
This is just pushed support for Golgari Elves and it also has respectable stats – yes it dies to Bonecrusher Giant, but at least you get some value out of this and it will help you find your best card (Tyvar).
Harald Unites the Elves
Harald wasn’t finished with supporting his archetype, as this card is just absolutely insane for the deck. If you’re lucky, this is a 4 mana Tyvar – but then you still get 2 very relevant abilities out of this. Of course, this is only for this specific archetype, but this, Harald himself and Tyvar will be the reasons to play Elves. However, don’t forget that we currently don’t even have that many Elves in Standard, which might make all this support useless (for now at least) and these cards are probably just not good enough for Historic.
And out of nowhere we get this vampire dragon that might be able to take over Standard. I am not kidding, this card is incredible as it has a protection ability that doesn’t require mana or tapping (don’t underestimate this) and will be a huge threat quickly. Don’t forget that this is also awesome against Rogues – huge blocker in the air that’s almost impossible to kill and it exiles the graveyard. The only weakness of this card is Elspeth Conquers Death and that it starts fairly slowly, but that’s just a lot of power on a 4-drop.
Invasion of the Giants
This is great early game for the giants deck, as that archetype struggles with cheap cards. It ramps your giants, which makes them less clunky and it will protect you a bit in the early game, which are both things that this deck needs.
Kardur’s Vicious Return
Strong card, but only if you are able to use chapter I and III. Chapter I enables chapter III though, so it should generally work (unless they play graveyard hate in between). It’s crazy to think that R/B sacrifice gets so much support and that it would be a whole different world if Cauldron Familiar was still legal. It makes me think: Maybe they didn’t unban the card because of cards like Kardur’s Vicious Return, to not make this archetype problematic again.
Kaya the Inexorable
This was one of the earliest spoilers of this set and I still don’t know how to evaluate this card. It really depends on how useful the first ability is – and it makes me think that you need to play this in some sort of midrange deck. I don’t know how that will look like, as we didn’t have white midrange decks in a long time. The second ability is obviously very good and that fact alone makes the card at least decent.
King Narfi’s Betrayal
I think this card is just too clunky again and it forces you to play these cards in that same turn, otherwise you just lose value. I don’t like cards that force me to do specific turns and you shouldn’t either.
Koma, Cosmos Serpent
Oh boy, Wizards spoils a mythic Simic card and people start to get their pitchforks out – and I did that too at first glance! This card ends the game incredibly quickly and the fact that this expensive spell can’t be countered also makes this much better. It doesn’t protect itself from Extinction Event but at least it leaves a 3/3 behind. One downside, besides the fact that it costs 7 mana of course, is that it can get killed in the end step after you resolved this; but you pretty much need to play black for that. I still think that its excellent ramp payoff. It ends the games quickly, can’t get countered (which is important for ramp payoffs) and you know, threats need to be killable somehow, or they would be Uro (maniac laughter).
I think this card doesn’t work because of two reasons: First of all, it doesn’t really fit into any deck. Second, it’s advantage is almost purely value oriented and does not help the board state; it’s bad at protecting itself unless your opponent has literally only just attacked with one small creature. Maybe I am undervaluing the Shard tokens, as those are basically upgraded versions of Clues; but the fact that you need to spend additional mana to get value out of your already expensive planeswalkers – no thank you.
The Raven’s Warning
I think this can be a solid card if you’re playing midrange or control mirrors; it requires an answer or it will create some value; and the third mode allows to fish for some sideboard silver bullets. I hate that you have to wait a whole turn to get that card, which makes it much clunkier and more predictable – and i’m not even sure that this is a main deck card to begin with. Sideboard cards should have more impact though, so there’s a good possibility this doesn’t see play at all.
Sarulf, Realm Eater
I liked this card at first, but after I tried to figure out how to play this is gave me headaches: First, you need to kill an enemy creature – sure, that’s doable. Then you need to have enough enemy targets that die do the trigger – that’s already not always easy. But on top of that you’re limited to doing this on the upkeep – that’s just so many conditions. You could play this in decks that care about +1/+1 counters, but in these decks Sarulf kills all of your good stuff as well. I really want this card to be good, but I seriously think it might be too hard to pull off.
Showdown of the Skalds
Chapter II and III don’t look particularly strong, but the first one does interest me. It reminds me a bit of Escape to the Wilds and I don’t want to count out these large pieces of card advantage. White usually doesn’t play cards like that, you can say, but Felidar Retreat is still a think for example, so I’ll keep my eyes peeled for this one.
Waking the Trolls
This card seems to be good ramp payoff – if you get to snipe on of your opponents lands early on it’s nice and it helps you keep hitting these land drops. I hate that you need to wait 2 turns to get the actual good part of the card and it’s not even that good! Imagine you miss some land drops then this card doesn’t even do anything, and against fast decks it’s also pretty bad.
There’s a lot of action going on with these multicolored sagas, although I have to say that most of them still need some more support to actually function in the current metagame. The big winner here is probably Yorion.
This is 3 mana Metallic Mimic and also dies to Bonecrusher Giant. I’ll pass.
I only mention this card because it has combo potential with another card that I’ll mention later, but other than that I don’t think that this card is good enough.
Slightly worse (not strictly worse, because it hits non creatures too) than Grafdigger’s Cage, so I’ll take it and this will almost assuredly see play.
Not too many good artifacts, but there also haven’t been many shown.
Just like in the previous set, all of these will see play for sure, and some of them will make already established decks much better (Golgari Adventures and Rakdos Kroxa have both been struggling with their mana bases for example). Good mana is always important and these Pathways are just awesome.
It’s easy to compare this to Crawling Barrens: It’s cheaper, but it does less damage in the long run. What’s more important of these two, we’ll have to find out – but keep in mind that this is also a Snow Land, which can be more important for some decks.
The World Tree
For that one very specific five-color deck, this is mana fixing and win condition in one. This is also the card that combos well with Maskwood Nexus and give you one-turn-kill potential, but it’s still expensive to pull off so it should be fine.
Gates of Istfell
This can be a great late game card for control decks. In general I think that these cards are mainly good for control, as you don’t want to play too many tapped lands in other deck, especially not with the other MDFC’s from Zendikar Rising still in the game, and as a result I don’t like the other ones as much. You also don’t want to play these in three-color decks for example, as these decks already have slow fixing and don’t need more tapped lands that just produce one source of mana.
The Pathways are definitely incredible and will make the most impact; apart from that the lands seem to be just okay, but sweet for Limited.
Thank you for reading this large in-depth set review. These are always a lot of fun to write and definitely let me know in the comments if you liked or hated it, or in which ratings you think I am wrong!